- Featured Stories
- Douglas County
- City of Ava
- General Interest
By Mindy Crandall
Missouri is one of the most central of the states in the U.S., however, it shares some of the same time-long traditions as the southern states, and the love of racing is one of them.
Although there are no NASCAR racetracks in Missouri, the popularity for the sport of racing runs high with several Ava families.
NASCAR is one of the most popular types of racing and it has transformed tremendously from the days when Richard Petty Sr. and Dale Earnhardt first started racing.
They raced back in the days when money and sponsors were hard to come by, and fixing your own car was key. This is something that a few boys and girls, and father-and-son combos, in Ava can truly relate to as driving and racing cars has become a running passion and hobby for them. Although most of these racers are not quite ready for the NASCAR series, they do race the local dirt tracks and drag racing strips in the area.
Dirt track racing is a type of auto racing performed on oval tracks. It began in the United States before World War I and became widespread during the 1920s and 30s. The same type of cars – stock cars – are predominate in this area for dirt tracks like that of the south.
Stock cars, also known as fender cars, are either purpose-built race cars or street vehicles that have been modified to vary in degree. This is the single most common form of auto racing in the United States.
When I first entered the doors to Jack’s Automotive, introduced myself and gave the official handshake I knew the interview I was about to conduct with Jack Hamer would be one like no other. To be perfectly honest, I was looking forward to the interview, but was not all that enthusiastic about it as Jack is a dirt track racecar driver and I am not any type of a race fan. I attended many races during my earlier years and really never enjoyed the obnoxious roaring of motors, dirt flying, late night, gritty teeth, dingy hair feeling that the races left me with.
I must say, however, Jack did not disappoint as he was a very nice guy with an exceptional family, and the more we talked the more I began to enjoy the sport of racing. He turned a never before race fan into an immediate racing junky.
The moment Jack began telling of his race life and how he got started, his eyes began to light up with such an enthusiasm that at the moment I thought he had became a sports commentator doing a documentary on his own life.
Every word he spoke was relived and portrayed with such a visual image that anyone listening would have thought that they were at each race.
Jack remembers well his first dirt track race experience. He said his parents took him to Redding, Pennsylvania to a world-class dirt track and he can remember every last detail to that day from the moment he entered the track.
He said, “I can still remember what the winning car looked like. I have always wanted to be involved in racing since that day.”
He first got into racing in 1976, only as a mechanic. He helped his brother in Colorado maintain and build the engine for the car in which he raced. That lasted only a short time and ended quickly in 1979 when Jack’s brother’s wife ended up pregnant and the racing funds began to go towards the planning of their family.
There is a funny story to Jack’s adventure with his brother. They had no trouble picking out the 1954 Buick Special late model, but whenever it came to the number on the car, there was a bit of a struggle. Jack and his brother both wanted to use their own baseball number used in earlier years, Jack’s being 14 and his brother’s 7. Both being too stubborn to give up, left the argument to be settled by a friend that said, “Heck, that car is about as big as a 714 airplane, why don’t you use both.” And from that day on, the number 714 has been decaled on Jack Hamer’s car.
This wasn’t the end of Jack’s racing career, as many of his acquaintances know. After moving to Ava, Jack got reintroduced to racing by a fellow employer, Harold Howerton. Hamer says he used to work at Bumper To Bumper and Harold had a lot of racing buddies like Rex Sawyer and Tom Woods who helped him learn more about the track life.
Jack so desperately told of the desire to have his own car, strictly to work on and to provide for his son to race. He wanted to make it a family affair.
Jack’s wife, Cheryl, made him a promise that when he could afford a truck to pull it with, a trailer to haul it on and a shop to keep it in then he, too, could have a car for himself.
It took no time at all. By 2004 Jack had opened Jack’s Automotive and now was one step closer to owning a car. Jack quickly found a truck and was making decent enough money to buy a trailer and as promised, Jack bought his first race car. Father and son were now a racing team.
Many hours went into working, fine tuning and maintaining the car. Jack enjoyed every moment spent with his son and took pride in watching him race.
All it took for Jack was the one weekend when his son had other plans and didn’t want to race. Hamer decided that weekend he would take the car up and just try to drive it himself. With no experience he, of course, came in dead last, but from that moment on he was hooked.
The adrenaline he felt enter his body that day was a magical force and he had to have more. The very next night Jack took the car out again and actually passed someone in the field. He carried on as much about that pass as he did some of his wins. That was the first time he realized that he could truly race competitively.
As we all know, most things take practice to enhance the skill that we desire. After seven years of racing two nights a week at the Springfield Raceway and in Lebanon at the Midway Raceway, Jack has finally entered the Winner’s Circle as the Points Champion.
For several years Hamer always finished second in his class, but he knew that he had run consistently all year long and when it came down to the last two races he feared that something was going to happen and keep him away from that win. He had nightmares of his truck breaking down leaving him stranded and unable to race.
Not even Joe Francis, one of Jack’s main rivals on the track, could keep him from victory.
There is no doubt that Jack loves racing. His wife, Cheryl, laughingly calls it his girlfriend. He has gained a lot of knowledge about racing over the years, but the four things that he believes make a great race team are: a good motor, a set up that is able to take the turns, a well-developed driver who can feel as one with the car, and simply being safe and having a safe car.
All these are instrumental, and with so many years of racing under his belt and having only gone through three cars in his career, I would say he knows a little about this.
When asked what was next, Jack replied, “A lot of rules in racing are changing and a lot more money is being involved. Even though I do everything on our car myself, I still want to keep it just a hobby. I will probably move down a class and keep it simple.” More important than the wins, Jack enjoys spending time with his family and the connection they have pertaining to the car. He has not only gained a championship win, but a racing family for life.
Jack, you were certainly a delight to meet. I enjoyed every moment talking to you and your wife. Even though, at first we didn’t have racing in common I think it was the mere mention of baseball and the thought behind your Mets color racing scheme that made me feel connected. I wish you the best of luck next year and don’t be surprised if you see me at the tracks sometime.
Another form of racing and one that has been shared by many in Ava over the years is drag racing. Drag racing is a competition in which vehicles compete to be the first to cross a set finish line, usually from a standing start and in a straight line. It first gained popularity in the United States after World War II. The sport has steadily grown in popularity and has spread across the globe. Since 2009, hundreds of drag strips have opened up for operation. One such drag strip is located in Rogersville, and several men, women and children from the Ava area have started their drag racing career there.
Danny Givans, a local large farm machinery mechanic from Ava, has spent many Saturday nights up at Rogersville. Now careful not to tell his age, but for the mere purpose of explaining how long he has been competing at Rogersville, I will say his career began in the late seventies.
This isn’t where he first got started. His first experience behind the wheel began right here in Ava. His dad owned a shop in Ava and before Danny and his brother, Don, could even legally drive, their dad would send them to the store after parts. Each one would hop in a car and take off in a dead sprint down the road. Their reasoning wasn’t to see who could return the fastest, but rather to line up and race each other down there. Also during those times, many driving age boys who loved their cars would hold competitions.
One person would line them up and they would take off to Squires Flats only to have someone there at the finish line who could report on the winner. Very conscious of who might call the law, one would make sure that at least one phone on the party line in the area was taken off the hook so no one had the opportunity to call.
Once Rogersville drag strip was open, Danny never again raced on the streets. Shortly after Danny began raising a family with his wife, Connie, and bought a farm, he gave up racing and stored his old car, a 1968 Barracuda.
While racing at Rogersville, it was rare for him to lose, but times were changing and he had a much stronger role to play. The car was stored in his garage for over 20 years. It sat disassembled and dirt covered. At that time, he had made racing a part of his past.
I don’t know how many of you know Danny Givans very well, but I must say I have had the opportunity to know him on many levels – as a father to a fellow classmate, as my grandpa’s farm machinery mechanic and as a repeat customer at a convenience store where I once was employed. In every one of these opportunities I had the same thought about Danny. I found him to be a very hard worker, but a man of very little words. I may have heard him say a handful of words the entire time of me knowing him so when I called Danny to ask for an interview I was not a bit surprised when all he said was, “Call Todd.”
Todd is Danny’s son, who now races along side his dad. He drives the same car his dad started in, the 1968 Barracuda.
Once Todd showed interest in racing in 2005, he and Danny began rebuilding the motor in the old car. Today, Danny drives a 1968 Dart, and he and Todd share the same paint scheme. It is a true delight for everyone at the strip to see both father and son.
Once Todd started racing and people at the track saw the name Givans on the car, they didn’t recognize Danny, but did recognize the Barracuda. They were constantly asking Todd if that was Danny’s car and if he was related. How amazing – people still remember the winning Barracuda after all these years.
Connie, Danny’s wife and Todd’s mom, comments on the fact that even though she spent many hours at the drag strip with Danny, it was much harder to see her son race. Todd has not disappointed his dad in the least.
Todd has been a top 5 finisher for the last five years in the point series. This year he received second. In the six years that the two have been racing together they have only faced off once at the starting line. When I asked Todd who won, he let out a small smirk, but replied with much dignity by saying, “It was pure luck, but I won. Dad’s car messed up before the light even turned.”
When interviewing Todd over the phone, it was apparent that he showed the same passion for racing as his dad, but even more was the bond they shared. I would have thought that I was talking to Dale Earnhardt Jr. about his father.
Todd showed the same compassion, the same honor, the same legacy, to his father – his hero.
It is like looking back in time and seeing the young Danny sitting in the driver’s seat that now harnessed his son. Even more than the wins is a lifetime of memories created between father and child. I am sure many serious talks have been held around the Barracuda with many more to come.
Thank you, Danny and Todd, for allowing me the rare opportunity to take a glimpse inside your lives. I hung up the phone that night with Todd and felt the very urge to hug each of my children. The time and the bond we create with our children is the very love the world was created in.
Another family that has taken advantage of the drag strip nearby is the Randy and Linda Kutz family. Four out of five of their children race in Rogersville.
They all started out at a young age and all of them have a different agenda for racing.
When I walked into the doors of Kutz Car Clinic to sit and talk to the family, I was instantly consumed by the energy and pride that this family held. Two junior dragsters were well polished and showcased on the floor next to a floor-to-ceiling bookcase full of trophies. You would assume that with all these wins would come some very chatty children ready to talk about their accomplishments. I had to literally pry information from them.
It wasn’t that their sense of pride wasn’t there and that they didn’t love racing, but to them this was nothing unusual or nothing to boast about.
Three of the Kutz children started out racing dirt bikes. Randy and Linda always saw this as an opportunity to enjoy something with their children.
Randy commented, “Your kids will always get involved in something, what better way, but to be a part of it. At least I know what my kids are doing.”
Two of their boys, Kody and Kasey, had a lot of success at racing dirt bikes, but for their sister, Kandas, it was a little more dangerous and not something she could really get into.
Trying to make sure that all their kids could be involved, they switched their racing gears toward junior drag racing. This too is held at the Rogersville drag strip on Saturday nights.
It is an all-day event for most families like the Kutzes. All three of the younger kids compete in this series and have had much luck.
Asked what is the driving force behind racing, Kandas replied, “All I want to do is beat the boys.” And she has on more than one occasion.
She had raced two different junior dragsters since her start six years ago and is looking to move up in a truck series.
Her biggest accomplishment so far as been a 2nd place finish in a big shoot-out in October.
Younger brother, Kasey, is not to be outdone. He has more dirt bike trophies than racing ones as of right now, but his eyes are on the prize of having more wins than his sister.
These children are clearly competitive by nature, and more than the rivalry between them is the rivalry between them and others on the line. With a light heart, they chant and say, “We want to beat the (blank).” They know who they’re talking about and so do I, and we will leave it at that.
I never laughed so hard as I did that night listening to the stories and the going back and forth between siblings. Even though, this all may seem like fun and games, it is not, as the kids have a lot of responsibility in taking care of their own car. Randy does do all the mechanical work for them, but does not let them off the hook about helping out.
I commented on how lucky they were to have a dad who could do all the motor work for them. Randy replied, “I was too stupid to do anything else.”
Stupid you are not. Randy, you have done well for yourself and have given so much of yourself to your children and they will cherish your commitment.
Their mom has sacrificed a lot, too. Linda says, “I could have had a really nice house by now with all the money we have spent racing with the children, but it wouldn’t be worth what I have already received. Time with my family is worth more than any thing I could ever have.”
Randy’s older son, Cole, also races at Rogersville, making this truly a family event. He is the second oldest and started his career in racing when he was just 16. He started out in a 1982 Chevy truck bought off of Eric Duckworth. He now drives a 1970 Chevy Nova 454. His racing means so much more to him than just the thrill of racing or the time spent with his family. Cole says racing is his faith, not that he expects every one to understand that, but to him it is.
He takes pride in his faith as much as in his car. The ground was still covered with a little snow when I interviewed him and when asked where his car was he replied, “I don’t get the car out in bad weather. I really take care of it.” Cole does, however, drive his car on the streets and changes out tires when he goes to the drag strip. If anyone has ever seen Cole’s car, it becomes very apparent that his faith is strong, as it has several different decals – one saying Yahweh (Hebrew for God), the cross represents Christ and the price he paid for us all on the cross and the SC is salvation in Christ.
His back glass has the saying, “Don’t let the car fool you my treasure is in Heaven.”
Cole has participated in many races and one special one in particular was the Jacob Yeates Memorial Race. His family started cackling as they told Cole to show off his trophy from that event. He won for one of the slowest time. The trophy highlights the achievement with a nice turtle perched on top.
Randy and Linda, your family is great. I have known you all for many years and shared the same joy many times with you as we both watched our children play sports. But getting to hear of your racing adventures allowed me to view a different side of your family. It left me with no different opinion than what I had before. I have always admired your dedication to your family; for that I think you will be well rewarded.
Racing, one of America’s great pastimes, is loud and it is the pure thrill of feeling lightning fast. It is a sport in which legends were born.
For many of these families it is a sense of connection, it is where their own legends have materialized and a time worth remembering. No matter where their start began, whether it be on a dirt track in Springfield or Lebanon or at the tire burning drag track in Rogersville, I feel that each of these racers has accomplished more than just a win. They may not end up on national television, but in the hearts of their fans and families, they are legends who will be talked about for years to come. I do hope these stories will be passed down with the same desires I have for passing them down some day to my grandchildren.
Reflections is a weekly column exploring Douglas County. During the month of February we will be featuring local racing interests.